By Land or By Sea?
When rubythroated hummingbirds arrive from their wintering grounds in the spring, they usually appear first in the Gulf coast states. For a long time, scientists wondered about the route the hummingbirds traveled. Do tiny hummingbirds fly 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico with no food or rest? Or do they travel over land? Let's explore some facts.
Fueling Up in February
Longer hours of sunlight in February trigger an urge to eat, eat, eat! Rubythroats stuff themselves with insects and spiders. Hummingbirds can almost double their weight in about a week. Layers of fat build on the hummingbird's back, belly, and throat. Hummingbirds typically eat nectar every 15 minutes, because flight burns so much energy. Will its fat reserves be enough to fuel the 500-mile flight?
Ready to Go the Distance?
A hummingbird flaps its wings 75 times per second during flight. It can fly about 25 miles an hour — and even faster with tailwinds. If the shortest distance across the Gulf of Mexico is about 500 miles, how many hours would the flight take?
Amazing But True!
Based on migration patterns and other observations, scientists discovered hummingbirds can fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. Flying this shorter, more direct route gets them to their breeding grounds more quickly than traveling by land. But there's a tradeoff: the energy-draining flight burns through their fat reserves. They must find food immediately when they land.
A Risky Route
Imagine the risks a hummingbird can encounter on its trip across the Gulf. What if strong headwinds slow it down and make the trip take longer? What if its fat reserves are depleted before the tiny bird reaches land? What if the hummingbird cannot find find food once it reaches shore?
Hungry on Arrival
Not all rubythroats take the short, tough trip across the Gulf of Mexico. Some travel by land, through Mexico and Texas, where they find food along the way. However, whether traveling by land or by sea, hummingbirds are hungry when they arrive. They'll be eager to eat from your nectar-filled feeders and flowers!